Although most of the nation’s focus during the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs was on the two U.S. Senate seats, there was one other runoff that didn’t receive as much attention. Voters in Georgia also decided the District 4 race for the state Public Utilities Commission (PSC), which resulted in a first for the Peach State.
Incumbent Bubba McDonald (R) defeated challenger Daniel Blackman (D). McDonald’s victory in the 2020 runoffs marks the first time that both a Democrat and Republican have won in the same statewide runoff election in Georgia. In the two U. S. Senate runoffs, Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff each won.
McDonald received the most votes of any Republican candidate in the runoffs, whereas his opponent, Blackman, received the fewest votes of any Democratic candidate.
Unlike previous runoffs, the PSC runoff in 2020 also had the greatest level of parity compared to the U.S. Senate runoffs. Compared to the previous years where both positions advanced to a runoff (1992 and 2008), the overall turnout in the 2020 PSC runoff was 49,257 votes (1.1%) less than the highest-turnout U.S. Senate race. Historically, runoff elections for PSC have had a lower turnout than those for the Senate when the two appear on the same ballot.
On Dec. 29, 2020, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee nominated Marlon Amprey (D) to the Maryland House of Delegates to represent District 40. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) approved the nomination and formally appointed Amprey to the seat on Jan. 6, effective Jan. 13.
Amprey will succeed Nick Mosby (D), who resigned in December 2020 when he was sworn in as Baltimore City Council president.
The Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee nominated Amprey on Dec. 29 by a 4-3 vote. Amprey was one of 15 to apply for the position. Prior to his appointment, Amprey worked as an associate with the law firm Cole Schotz P.C. He has also worked as a teacher.
According to Maryland law, the governor has 30 days after a vacancy to make an appointment based on the recommendations of the political party committee that holds the vacant seat. The political party committee has up to 30 days after the vacancy to submit a list of recommended candidates to the governor. If the party committee fails to act within the 30 day deadline, the governor has 15 days to appoint a person from the political party that last held the seat.
In 2020, there were 142 state legislative vacancies in 41 states. As of Jan. 13, 121 of those vacancies have been filled. Amprey is one of 59 Democrats to fill state legislative vacancies from 2020.
Candidates interested in running in a special election for the District 35 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives had until January 8, 2021, to file. Republican Brett Geymann was the only candidate to file by the deadline. Since only one candidate filed for the race, the February 6 primary and the March 20 general election were canceled. Geymann was deemed elected to the seat without appearing on the ballot.
Geymann previously served in the Louisiana state House from 2004 to 2016. He was term-limited from seeking re-election in 2015.
The seat became vacant after the resignation of Stephen Dwight (R) on December 1, 2020. He resigned to become the district attorney of Calcasieu Parish. He had represented the district since 2016.
Louisiana has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 27-12 margin and the state House by a 67-35 margin with two independents and one vacancy. Democrat John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana in 2015.
As of January 2021, 16 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 11 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.
On Nov. 3, 2020, 5,875 state legislative seats were up for regularly scheduled elections across 86 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers. As a result of the election, control of 315 seats flipped from one party to another.
Republicans gained a net 141 seats, Democrats lost a net 133 seats, and independent and third party candidates lost a net eight seats. At least one seat flipped parties in every state holding regularly scheduled state legislative elections except Hawaii.
Of the 315 seats that changed party control, 215 (68.3%) were Democratic seats that went to Republicans. Seventy-eight (24.8%) were Republican seats that went to Democrats.
The table below shows the total number of state legislative seats that flipped partisan control during the 2020 state legislative elections. Columns show the number of seats that flipped to the given partisan affiliation listed in the top row. Rows show the number of seats that flipped from the given partisan affiliation listed in the leftmost column.
There was a 38% decrease in flipped state legislative seats compared to 2018, which saw 508 flips. Democrats flipped 80% fewer seats from Republicans in 2020 compared to 2018. Republicans saw a 131.2% increase in flipped Democratic seats. The table below shows the total number of flipped seats in both years and the number of seats flipped between major parties.
Fifty seats flipped party control in New Hampshire, the most of any state. Forty-nine of those seats flipped to Republicans—48 from Democrats and one from a Libertarian. One seat flipped from Republican to Democrat. As a result, both chambers of the New Hampshire General Court changed from Democratic to Republican control.
The map below shows states shaded to reflect the number of seats that changed party control in 2020. Darker shades indicate a larger number of flips. States shown in gray did not hold regularly scheduled state legislative elections in 2020.
On Dec. 21, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in DOC v. Stiles that the Colorado State Personnel Board (Board) must defer to disciplinary decisions made by state agencies. The court’s decision aimed to shed light on the standard the Board must apply when reviewing other state agencies’ disciplinary decisions.
The court held that when the Board considers appeals of decisions to discipline agency employees, they must apply the “arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to rule or law” standard instead of reviewing the facts of the case on a de novo basis.
The arbitrary or capricious standard instructs the Board to give deference to the disciplinary action taken by the state agency. It prevents the Board from overturning such actions unless the agency failed to give honest consideration to the evidence involved in the case or violated a law or rule. De novo review would allow the Board to evaluate the evidence in the case and make its own decision without regard for the earlier conclusions made by the state agency that decided to discipline an employee.
The court remanded the case back to the state administrative law judge (ALJ), working for the Board, who had overruled the state agency disciplinary action at issue in the case.
In the opening paragraph of the opinion announcing the decision, Justice Carlos Samour wrote about the stakes of the case in the following way: “At a micro level, it will affect whether Mathew Mark Stiles keeps his job at the Department of Corrections (“DOC”). At a macro level, it will affect the 30,000-plus other certified state employees in Colorado’s personnel system.”
The standard articulated by the Colorado Supreme Court is similar to the arbitrary-or-capricious test established by the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Under that test, courts reviewing agency actions invalidate any that they find to be “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”
To learn more about state administrative law judges or judicial deference, see here:
On Jan. 7, the Kentucky State House and Senate passed four pieces of legislation aimed at limiting the emergency powers of the state governor.
The first bill, House Bill 1, would allow any businesses, schools, or associations to remain open as long as their operating plans meet or exceed guidance issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bill aims to override restrictions placed on businesses and other groups by Governor Beshear (D) in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It passed in the House with 70 votes in favor and 25 opposed.
The second bill, House Bill 5, would limit the authority of the governor to temporarily reorganize administrative agencies and transfer personnel without legislative approval. It passed in the House with 73 votes in favor and 22 opposed.
The third bill, Senate Bill 1, would limit the power of the governor during states of emergency. The bill would sunset after 30 days executive orders issued by the governor related to restrictions on in-person meetings and the functioning of schools, businesses, and churches unless the legislature approves an extension. The bill also allows the state legislature to terminate declarations of emergency at any time. It passed in the Senate with 27 votes in favor and nine opposed.
The final bill, Senate Bill 2, would make it more difficult for the governor to direct state administrative agencies to make emergency regulations without justifying the emergency nature of the situation. The bill defines an emergency situation and requires agencies to demonstrate such emergencies with documentary evidence to receive approval for new regulations from the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. It passed in the Senate with 31 votes in favor and six opposed.
The General Assembly may override a possible gubernatorial veto with a majority vote in both houses.
To learn more about state responses to the administrative state or the COVID-19 pandemic, see here:
Election officials have scheduled a special election for the District 38 seat in the Virginia State Senate for Mar. 23, 2021. The seat became vacant when A. Benton Chafin (R) died on Jan. 1 from complications related to coronavirus. There is no primary, and the filing deadline is on Jan. 22.
On Jan. 5, Mike Kennedy (R) was sworn in as a member of the Utah State Senate. Kennedy won a special election on Dec. 29, 2020, to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Daniel Hemmert (R). Hemmert resigned to take a job as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development under newly elected Gov. Spencer Cox (R).
Delegates from the Utah County Republican Party chose Kennedy to replace Hemmert in an online special election. He prevailed over Jeanette Bennett, David Shallenberger, Staci Valentine Carroll, Jon Anderson, and John St. Clair.
Kennedy previously served in the Utah House of Representatives, representing District 27 from 2013 to 2018. He left the legislature to mount an unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Mitt Romney (R) in the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate primary.
The Utah Senate is the upper chamber of the Utah Legislature. With Kennedy filling Hemmert’s seat, the current partisan breakdown of the senate is 23 Republicans and six Democrats.
Election officials have scheduled a special election for the Hillsborough 21 seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives for Apr. 13, 2021. The seat became vacant when state House speaker Dick Hinch died on Dec. 9 from complications caused by COVID-19. The primary is on Feb. 23, but it may serve as the general election if no primary is required. The filing deadline is on Jan. 15.
The Alaska Supreme Court confirmed Alaska Representative Lance Pruitt’s (R) 11-vote loss to Democratic challenger Liz Snyder on Friday, January 8. The court ruled that Pruitt did not provide sufficient evidence to sustain his challenge of the election results.
Pruitt’s loss means that control of the chamber will likely remain uncertain until at least January 19, when lawmakers will convene in Juneau for the start of the legislative session. As a result of this decision, the Alaska House of Representatives is currently split between a 20-member Republican faction and a multi-partisan coalition of 16 Democrats (including Snyder), three independents, and Republican Louise Stutes. Had Pruitt won, it could have given the Republican wing of the House the 21 votes needed to control the chamber.
Pruitt’s lawsuit centered on the argument that the state did not adequately notify the public when the Alaska Division of Elections moved a polling location and that the Division of Elections did not provide suitable election security in regard to absentee ballots. Pruitt’s attorney in the case, Stacey Stone, said that Pruitt will not pursue any further action to contest the results of the election. “The integrity of our election system serves as the foundation of our government. We respect the decision of the court today, but we hope the Division (of Elections) addresses the issues that occurred in Precinct 915 so that these type of events do not occur in the future, and that all voters constitutional rights are guaranteed. We await the supreme court’s full opinion as to how they addressed the multiple points on appeal,” Stone said. After the verdict was announced, Snyder said, “It was great to see that come out the way we anticipated it.”
Although Republicans won a 23-16 majority with one independent in the 2018 elections, a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker on February 14, 2019. The parties split control of key leadership positions and committees and Edgmon was elected speaker after leaving the Democratic Party. The House majority consisted of 15 Democrats, eight Republicans, and two members unaffiliated with either party. Of the eight Republicans who joined the majority coalition in 2018, only Steve M. Thompson and Louise Stutes were re-elected in 2020.
Eighty-six of 99 state legislative chambers across 44 states held general elections on November 3, 2020. Heading into the 2020 elections, Republicans had majorities in 59 chambers and Democrats had majorities in 39 chambers. Partisan control flipped in two chambers—Republicans gained majorities in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the New Hampshire State Senate.